Photo by Ben Spurr
Six days after explosive allegations surfaced that Mayor Rob Ford was caught on video smoking crack cocaine, his brother held a press conference at which he dismissed the accusations and urged the media to lay off his family.
The ten-minute address outside the mayor's office Wednesday afternoon was the most substantive statement out of the Ford camp since Gawker and the Toronto Star published the drug allegations on Thursday night.
Encircled by reporters and TV cameras, Councillor Ford stressed that he wasn't speaking on behalf of the mayor, and issued a qualified denial of the story.
"I'm not speaking for the mayor. The mayor is my brother. I love him, and he'll speak for himself," he said, reading from a prepared statement.
"Rob is telling me these stories are untrue, that these accusations are ridiculous. And I believe him."
The Etobicoke councillor then lashed out at reporters, claiming the story was based on "questionable reporting" by a newspaper, the Toronto Star, "that has proven they would do anything to stop the mayor's agenda."
He accused reporters of harassing his family and "hid[ing] in the bushes" outside his cottage over the long weekend.
"I am asking all of you today: please stop. Please stop harassing my children, please stop harassing my mother. Please leave them out of this," he said.
Aside from a very brief appearance on Friday at which he called the allegations "ridiculous," the mayor himself has gone to ground since the story broke, dodging reporters at City Hall and outside his home for the past six days. He attended the funeral for Toronto Sun founding editor Peter Worthington on Wednesday morning, and did not come in to his office.
Although councillors, columnists, and the deputy mayor have all urged Rob to address the accusations head on, Doug insisted the mayor was under no obligation to do so.
"If the mayor stopped and held a press conference every time the media made up a story about him, we would never have accomplished what we have," he said. "If the mayor wants to make a statement, his press secretary will notify the media."
If the press conference was intended to lower the temperature on the scandal and deflect attention from the mayor, however, it didn't work.
Midway through Councillor Ford's speech, as he reeled off a list his brother's accomplishments-including spending cuts, positive credit ratings, and avoiding labour disruptions-reporters began shouting, demanding to know when Rob will face the press. When the press conference ended, the councillor was swarmed by reporters and had to be escorted into the mayor's office by security.
Afterwards, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday, who has privately advised Rob Ford to speak about the drug scandal, said his brother's statement was no substitute.
"I certainly wanted to hear something from Rob, not from Doug," Holyday said. "Hopefully we will."
Asked what the mayor's reaction was when Holyday advised him to clear the air, the deputy mayor said, "He listens well. But sometimes we don't see much in the way of action. I don't know what's going on there."
Holyday speculated that lawyers might be telling the mayor not to say anything.
As the mayor's silence drags on, councillors report that the festering drug accusations are becoming a major distraction from council's work.
Councillor Gary Crawford, a member of the mayor's executive committee, says he didn't go out or answer his phone over the weekend because he knew he would be asked questions about the cocaine scandal.
"We read the papers, we get the phone calls. We have to respond in many ways too," said Crawford, a rookie councillor from Scarborough who shares the mayor's fiscal conservative agenda. "When I'm out in the area, when I'm speaking with people that's the first thing-it's pretty much on everybody's mind right now."
Crawford said the controversy has been particularly hard on council members like himself who have supported the mayor in the past. He expected Mayor Ford to make an announcement on Tuesday and was disappointed when nothing came.
"The silence does not assist the mayor, [and] it doesn't assist us in moving forward," he said.
As devastating to Ford's political career as the cocaine allegations could be, the bad news for the mayor did not end there on Wednesday. In the afternoon, the Toronto Catholic District School Board announced that Ford had been relieved of his volunteer coaching duties with the Don Bosco Eagles high school football team.
"Mr. Ford has helped our students rise to the challenge and realize their potential as both football players and young men," Bruce Rodrigues, the board's education director, said in a press release. "This decision was based on what is best for our students, our school and the Don Bosco community."
It is unclear whether the TCDSB's decision was related to the drug allegations (a board spokesperson could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon), but Ford's coaching job has been in jeopardy for months. In March members of the Don Bosco community were angered by comments Ford made during an interview with the Sun News Network, in which he said many of the players "come from gangs" and "broken homes," and would have no reason to go to school if not for the football program.
Some parents and teachers felt Ford was disparaging the school, and the board put the mayor's coaching role under review a week after the interview.
Coaching youth football is the mayor's passion, and he has been praised for his volunteer work with kids. But he's also been criticized for being too dedicated to the sport. Last fall he came under fire for skipping council and committee meetings in order to coach, as well as for an incident that saw passengers kicked off a TTC bus so it could be commandeered to take the Eagles home from a game.
NOTE: This article has been edited from a previous version.